Going to Seed

In the pine tree next to the house a small red breasted nuthatch watched for a turn at the bird feeder. On the feed tray, two chickadees pecked and scratched for the biggest seeds. Sunflower seed shells littered the dirty, half-melted snow below. I sighed and shook my head. Winter was dragging on forever.

Seeing a large flicker land on the suet cage cheered me a little. After he left, a white-breasted nuthatch took his place. Watching him made me laugh out loud. Nuthatches operate just as well upside down as upright.

Each winter I get to a point where I’m sick of snow by late January. No longer pristine, sparkling white, the snow is dirty and full of tracks. Watching fresh snow flakes drifting to the ground no longer thrills me like it did in November. February snowfalls are merely seen as a chore to shovel aside or a travel hazard.

On February 2nd the famous groundhog predicts when spring will come, but the bottom line is that no matter what he predicts, we’ll still have cold and snowy weather for at least another six weeks, or longer if you live in Wisconsin.

Restless, I walked over to a window on the backside of the house where I could see my garden hoop building. A strong hankering to see lush, green, growing plants washed over me. I watched wind sweep small, white clouds of powdery snow off the garage roof, to do a swirling dance on the snowbanks below.

I thought, “Starting seeds indoors would take care of this urge to grow things, but it’s too early for that. I won’t be able to plant my garden until May!”

From past experience, I knew that it would be better if I left starting the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants to my daughter, Niki. I usually start out being attentive to the small plants, but if I get busy I forget to water them. By the time I finally get around to remembering, the baby plants are dead.

If we had a large nursery, starting plants this early wouldn’t be a problem. Niki and I have limited space and lighting. Planted this early, the plants would grow too tall and gangly. Three-foot-tall, pale green plants wouldn’t transplant well into the garden!

In years past, my brother Billy gave me an amaryllis bulb each Christmas. I spent January and February watching them send up tall stems and leaves. The buds on the top of the stems eventually opened to show huge, colorful flowers. I now save the bulbs for planting in the garden where they have a higher rebloom rate.

To feed my Franken-gardener urges, I’ve been starting unusual plants the last few Februarys. Deeper pots prevent most of the drought related deaths.

Last winter I enjoyed a box of large medjool dates. One day I looked at the seed I’d taken out of one and thought, “Maybe it’ll grow for me.” I put it into a pot of soil. Nothing happened for a long time. When I began to think about planting something else, I pushed aside the top soil to see what the seed was doing. To my amazement I found a white sprout pushing toward the surface. The slow growing date palm has two long leaves now.

The Meyer lemon seed I planted didn’t fare as well. It grew to be two or three inches tall, but one day I found it dead with crisp leaves. I guess that pot wasn’t deep enough! Since that happened, I’ve done a little reading and found that, like apple trees, a good lemon tree needs grafting.

On my last trip to Saint Paul, I stopped at one of my favorite grocery stores to buy kumquats, a citrusy fruit that I discovered last year. I found a few seeds I’m going to plant to see what happens. The information I have on kumquats, is their seeds are polyembryonic. Each seed has more than one plant embryo inside. One may be identical to the mother tree. If that one grows, no grafting will be needed.

Winter is only midway through. The warm part of spring is a long way off, but I’ve found a way to occupy myself and be happy. I’ve gone to seed. This usually means that something is deteriorating. In my case it means I’m having fun starting new and unusual plants.





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